February 08, 2019

In our previous article, we learned five essential techniques for string muting with the fretting hand. Now we will examine string muting with the picking hand.

Essential String Muting Techniques Continued:

  • Mute #6: The Classic Palm Mute. One of the most common picking hand muting techniques is to lightly rest the palm of your picking hand on the strings. Mute the strings completely at the end of a song or between rhythmic chords to tighten up choppy passages. Muffling the strings while simultaneously picking them makes the notes more percussive, with much improved articulation.
  • Mute #7: The Rest Stroke Mute. Classical guitarists (or anyone employing fingerpicking) often use the rest stroke technique to mute individual string combinations without changing their hand position. In classical playing, the rest stroke begins with one or more right hand fingers resting directly on top of the string(s), preventing unwanted noise. The player then plucks the string with the right hand finger and stops it on the next string over. This sounds the desired note while preventing the adjacent string from ringing. To apply the rest-stroke mute to other styles, you can preempt noise before the note with the beginning position and avoid noise after the note with the ending position. Experienced players commonly use a pick while simultaneously using their remaining right hand fingers to stop strings towards the treble side from sounding accidentally.   
  • Mute #8: The Mighty Thumb Stop Mute. This technique is useful any time you are not using a pick in the right hand, such as when fingerpicking an acoustic-style passage. While plucking the strings you want with the right hand fingers, catch the side of the adjacent bass string with the right hand thumb. Imagine your thumb is "gripping" the underside of the string slightly to completely prevent it from sounding. If you need to mute the 4th or 5th strings this way, it is a simple matter to lay the side of the right hand thumb across the additional strings at the same time to mute nearly any number of strings from the bass side.
  • Mute #9: Thumb Side Palm Mute. Sometimes it is desirable to mute strings towards the bass side while picking single note passages on the treble strings. In this technique, you will mute the bass strings with the side of your picking hand and the fleshy area at the base of your right hand thumb. This mutes the strings without forcing you to anchor your thumb, freeing it to hold the pick. It is an excellent technique for fast alternate picking phrases when you want to avoid wolf tones, and it can be especially effective for doing so when combined with treble muting on your left hand. Ultimately, you will be able to mute all five unused strings in some manner, allowing you to attack the fretted note aggressively for more impact without the risk of creating wolf tones in the process. This is also highly effective in preventing open-string feedback when playing through high gain amplifier channels.

Reaping the Benefits of Strong Muting Technique 

String muting doesn't seem very exciting compared to learning a high energy lead passage or fancy new riffing technique. But don't underestimate how powerful these techniques can be in making everything you play really stand out. Always consider how you can best accomplish muting unused strings as you practice your instrument, working muting into your overall style until it is automatic. As you are more polished with your muting techniques, you will discover it lends tremendous freedom of dynamic expression to your playing. Soon you'll be able to highlight those light, articulate passages very cleanly. You will also be able to play phrases as hard as you like, without the worry of wolf-tones created by hitting unwanted strings. Your playing will sound more polished and professional than ever before, and you will gain the satisfaction of having even greater control of every sound that comes out of your guitar.

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